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Roy Curtis: Erik ten Hag has turned Old Trafford back into the House of Swagger

It is an enormous achievement, one with potentially seismic long-term consequences for English and European football.

Erik ten Hag© Getty Images

Roy CurtisSunday World

Erik ten Hag’s supreme achievement – more valuable even than delivering a first trophy in six years to Manchester United – has been his banishing of the debilitating toxin of fear from a club too long paralysed by foreboding.

Call it Dutch courage, this potent new draught of unflinching belief from which his players are thirstily drinking, but Old Trafford’s willowy pathfinder has unchained a fidgety giant from its own suffocating neurosis.

It is an enormous achievement, one with potentially seismic long-term consequences for English and European football.

Liberated from all the institutional anxieties that have plagued the Theatre of Dreams since it shed its impenetrable Glaswegian comfort blanket a decade ago, anything might now be possible.

United look to have finally passed through their semi-eternal, post-Ferguson tempest.

The most striking feature of Ten Hag’s impressive statement of regained momentum is the absence of doubt, the sense – even when they are not remotely in possession of their A-game – that United will find a way.

It is there in the freedom with which Marcus Rashford, a spooked doe last season, is brashly spray-painting his class on every corner of a hugely redemptive season.

Confidence is an entirely legal class-A drug and the manner in which it is coursing through the English striker’s veins speaks volumes for the Ten Hag’s therapeutic man-management.

Rashford is the poster-boy for a team no longer paralysed by a fear of failure.

Against both Barcelona and Newcastle over the last week, United again performed the Cantona way: Cocksure, their self-belief starched and worn collar-up, a team no longer fretting about where they are headed.

This re-minted conviction is there in the natural-born authority with which Casemiro, a South American Roy Keane, imposes his will, re-setting standards lost in the long winter that fogged Old Trafford as it searched for a worthy successor to Alex Ferguson.

It is there in Lisandro Martinez’s apologetically costuming himself in the coat of a rottweiler, a salivating guard-dog certain that he can repel any foe foolish enough to stray into his domain.

It is visible in the new communion between terrace and pitch, the sense that after so many turbulent years, supporters feel they have a team in which they can at last invest their unqualified trust.

Most of all, it is there in the absolute faith assailing Old Trafford that it at last has a leader worthy of its storied history.

Just as Jurgen Klopp’s energy and charisma made him a perfect fit for Liverpool in 2015, so Ten Hag’s adult competence and indifference to celebrity was the perfect fit for a club seeking to rise above the chaos of its own recent history.

United have been aching to restate their status as masters of the English game.

Yet from the moment David Moyes walked into the spotlight with the startled look of an office janitor inadvertently promoted to CEO that prospect has seemed a million miles away.

Jose Mourinho arrived as a declining force, his ego no longer matched by the old ability to brilliantly shape a contest; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had little to recommend him beyond a sentimental appeal to those determined to walk forever down an Old Trafford memory lane that required boarding-up.

It was a dressing room of cliques and showy narcissists, a boardroom of incompetents, a club who shared Ferrari’s scarlet livery even as they chugged along like Del Boy’s three-wheeler Reliant Regal.

Paranoia and insecurity, ill-fitting signings and, time and time again the wrong man in the dugout, fed the sense of an empire in precipitous, irreversible decline.

In months, even as United face an existential moment in their ownership history, their first-season manager has been hugely successful in eradicating the dry-rot that had seeped into just about every timber of a tired, no longer fit for purpose institution.

Momentum is again the Stretford End's friend.

With Liverpool in need of a radical rebuild and Manchester City increasingly finding themselves in the crosshairs of football’s financial police, the sense is of English football arriving at a turn in the road.

One that looks more likely than at any time in the last decade to swing the balance of power back in the direction of Old Trafford’s reawakening house of swagger.

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